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Fireworks display's fate rests on forecast

Pasco fire officials say they'll have to cancel holiday displays if drought conditions don't improve in the coming week.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 20, 2001


Unless rain soaks Pasco County in the next week, county residents can kiss their Fourth of July fireworks goodbye.

With desertlike dryness afflicting the western part of the county, letting people set off firecrackers and bottle rockets risks igniting a blaze, said Pasco Fire Rescue Chief Anthony Lopinto.

Also threatened with cancellation is the annual July 4 fireworks display at Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey.

Lopinto said he won't sign off on the show unless he sees "significant improvement" in the rain gauge readings.

"You've got thousands of potential ignition sources going up in the air all night long," Lopinto said after making his no-fireworks recommendation at Tuesday's County Commission meeting in Dade City. "It's not worth risking house fires so people can blow off fireworks."

Pasco ranks third driest of Florida's 67 counties, but the brush fire potential varies depending on where you live.

Drought-index maps show much of coastal Pasco smeared a deep red, indicating extreme lack of rain. East of Interstate 75 the maps show a sea of blue, indicating the ground is wet from lots of rain.

The fireworks prohibition is part of the county's burn ban in place most of the year. On Lopinto's recommendation, commissioners decided not to broaden the rules to outlaw fireworks sales.

Pasco tried such a ban last year but was sued by Galaxy Fireworks Co. Lopinto pointed out that tents selling fireworks have begun sprouting around the county.

"You can buy fireworks but legally you can't use them," he said.

Drought or no drought, other organized fireworks shows in Pasco are moving forward.

Greater New Port Richey Main Street Inc. is planning a 20-minute fireworks display over Orange Lake as part of an Independence Day celebration the weekend of June 30-July 1. New Port Richey Fire Chief Daniel Azzariti reserves the right to cancel the show if the fire risk is too great.

Dade City's Sparklebration, which includes a July 4 fireworks show near Pasco High School, also remains on schedule.

But for backyard fireworks fans, the only chance for a reprieve will come at the June 26 County Commission meeting in New Port Richey.

Lopinto said shifting winds could sock Pasco with thunderstorms this week. If the clouds open up enough, Lopinto might propose lifting burn ban Tuesday.

"I am optimistic . . . that conditions are going to approve significantly," he said.

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